MORE FROM 40s HOLLYWOOD — AND VIVIEN LEIGH NEWS

Rick’s Journal    —    MY FILM CAREER

Variety Girl
George Marshall
1947
original songs by Frank Loesser

The exposition delivered in the first scene by Joan Caulfield and Barbara Stanwyck is so clumsy that I was ready to give the film up.  But I stayed, became engrossed and,  finally, delighted.

The highpoint for me this view around was the same as when I saw the initial release of Variety Girl:  Alan Ladd and Dorothy Lamour are sensational introducing the song Tallahassee.  (It would become a hit and be recorded by the Andrews Sisters with Bing Crosby.)  Dorothy Lamour is in general a surprisingly vibrant presence in the film.  Once the jungle princess cast off her sarong, she became an effervescent  charmer.

the Andrews Sisters with Bing Crosby

The slim plot is, of course, an excuse for promoting as many stars of the Paramount lot as could be reasonably accomodated.  The character of the studio boss (Frank Ferguson) is funny; and so is the running gag which has our heroine Catherine Brown (Mary Hatcher), aka Amber LaVonne,  somehow always involving him in water:  a bucket; a pool, the sound stage river.  Olga San Juan is perfect, and hilarious, as the other Amber LaVonne.

At the end of a very brief skit Gary Cooper utters the best-timed “Giddyap” that anyone could imagine.  Robert Preston appears even more briefly but proves as sterling as always.  Billy De Wolfe does food again (remember “Meex meex, toss toss…”?)  Directors George Marshall and Mitchell Leisen play parts, have lines.  Cecil B. DeMille, on his set, is one hundred percent believable playing his arrogant self.

A young DeForest Kelley is pleasant  —  and super sexy!  DeForest Kelly!  —  as the other half of the young love interest.  Pearl Bailey sings I’m Tired. 

the great onscreen couple, Lake and Ladd, with Robert Preston

My disappointment came with seeing Veronica Lake, in an autograph-hound skit, enter on Alan Ladd’s arm  —  then never appearing again until the film’s candid curtain call.  ( She is still with Alan Ladd then  and gives the impression of needing him and being dependent on him.)

 

 

 

 

 

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Rick’s Flicks has added a PAGE to its FILE ON VIVIEN LEIGH

Click on Vivien Leigh up top here, then scroll down and click on “A Making Of…”.

NEXT FRIDAY POST July 6

Until then,
See you AT the movies,
Rick

ASSORTED SHORT TAKES

RICK’S JOURNAL  —  MY FILM CAREER

Hollywood in the Teens and the Twenties:  Personal Reflections

The Bargain  —  Reginald Barker  —  1914

screenplay by William H. Clifford and Thomas Ince
with William S. Hart, J. Frank Burke and Clara Williams

This is a sophisticated production with good photography of interiors as well as exteriors.  There is a stunning Hitchcock-like pan within the Border Rest Cafe and Saloon.  Time is taken to develop all characters in this 75-minute western.  All performers are good, everyone having an acting edge on Hart himself despite all his experience (which, admittedly, was stage experience).

The Bargain is a visual story visually told.  An outstanding example:  As those who will arrest Two-Gun Jim are at the door to his room, others make known to him that they are at the window.  He hears that they are there.  In this silent world we, of course, do not.  But one of the two men we see through the window moves his hand ; and we know that he has made a sound that Jim hears.

The conclusion to the tale consists in a bargain between the sheriff and our outlaw Two-Gun hero who is trying to go straight.  For 1914 it makes for a shockingly cynical ending but a happy one for the romance.

The Grand Duchess and the Waiter  —  Malcolm St. Claire  —  1926

The Grand Duchess and the Waiter is a perfect example of those films I once heard Jean Renoir describe as the most beautiful films ever made.  He said this of the films made in Hollywood during the twenties.  This picture, chosen by the New York Times as one of the ten best of its year, is captivating, lovingly photographed, subtly acted, and meaningless.  It could not be more accomplished, but it amounts to nothing at all.

Adolph Menjou again proves himself the most subtle of silent actors, if never deviating from his screen persona.  Florence Vidor is every inch a duchess, and all the well-cast supporting players do dandy jobs.

Menjou ten years later in the famous STAGE DOOR

Almost all the fun is visual.  The script, however, lacks invention as it seeks to show how an inexperienced waiter can fail.  The happy conclusion is trite and based on the dime-store psychology that permeated American films of the era.  Love makes the world go round, even if it’s between two people who have only just met and know so little about each other that they cannot even know if they have anything in common.

Enchanting froth.

SECOND THOUGHTS;  Can I insist that the film mean something?  If this were a French film, would I see it as a charming comedy of manners and praise froth?

screenplay by Pierre Collings
adaptation by John Lynch, based on the play La Grande duchesse et le gar⊆on by Alfred Savoir
photography by Lee Garmes

NEXT “Friday” POST Wednesday June 20
Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

RETURN OF RICK’S FLICKS

Rick’s Flicks is back after a three-month unforeseen, unavoidable delay.  Thank you for staying with me.  Please keep coming back.

RECOMMENDED READING

Glenn Frankel’s book High Noon is a must-read not just for devotees of one of the great westerns.  It is of interest for anyone pursuing Hollywood history or the work of Fred Zinneman, Carl Foreman or Stanley Kramer, or the career of Gary Cooper.  Subtitled the Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American classic, Frankel’s page-turner of a book reads like a novel.  Much of it amounts to a mini-history of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee which called to its hearings some of the major figures who created High Noon.

Gary Cooper in HIGH NOON

The most intriguing parts of the book are those which look at who was responsible for the writing and, especially, who really did the editing.  Frankel rehearses the fabled history of the editing of High Noon.  He makes it a good detective story  and, for this reader, comes up with a plausible and fair judgment of the competing narratives.

NEXT FRIDAY POST May 4

Until then, see you at the movies,

Rick

A DON’T MISS FROM 2013

If you missed The Immigrant as I did on its first release, find it and view it now.

Incomparable Cotillard
photo by Anguerde

Of what better leads can one dream?  Cotillard, Phoenix and Renner.  All three are as fine as film acting can be.  Marion Cotillard is excruciatingly subtle, especially when she speaks with her eyes rather than with words.

Joaquin Phoenix adds one more portrait to a stout list of self-doubting and/or self-hating melancholy souls.  Jeremy Renner as the small-time magician dancing and  floating through life may suffer less, may be a shallower character.  But he proves himself capable of making his own kind of sacrifice.  Renner is so versatile that it seems not quite accurate to describe him as perfectly cast here.

Joaquin Phoenix
photo by Aphrodite

Set during one of the peaks of historic immigration as waves of newcomers inundate Ellis Island, the story is a tale not often told of the perils, in the situation, for a woman  alone on the island, or even on the boat before arrival.

It is an ugly story, beautifully told.

Jeremy Renner
photo by handbook

 

 

The engrossing cinematography captures the sepia of era photographs.  And the final shot ranks at least with that of The Third Man as two of the greatest final frames in film history.

The Immigrant James Gray 2013
photography Darius Khondji
production design Happy Massee

NEXT FRIDAY POST December 22

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

GOLD SPLICED IN

GOLD          Karl Hartl          1934

The exposition is clear, simple and always interesting.  Shown rather than told.  The narrative is a smooth flow.  The photography in this near-SciFi film from Nazi Germany is clear and highly professional.  Am I being condescending?  What else to expect from UFA?

The story,  today, has to seem  not very original, however:  some German scientists’ attempt at alchemy, building to a moral dilemma  —  scientific and commercial success vs. the social good.  We’re talking gold  here  —  and materialism  —  and, towards the end, inklings of globalism.

Gold comes out of thirties Germany; but I detect no Naziism.  The individual who steals the German scientific secrets, and murders to do so, is a Scot who is capitalistically self-centered and selfish.  Is the struggle between this Scot industrialist bad guy and the German good guys perhapsmore propagandistic than I have taken into account?

Albers, in center, as Dietrich’s lover in Von Sternberg’s THE BLUE ANGEL

The directing is straightforward and competent.  The film is well-paced with a lot of effective silences.  And the actors are successful.  Hans Albers stars as the principal good guy German scientist  —  principal because he’s the one left alive.  According to Katz (Film Encyclopedia), Albers made no films between 1935 and 1943.  Interesting.  Katz also reports that Brigitte Helm retired in 1935,  He comments that the silent star (now posthumously world famous as a result of the longevity of Metropolis) was less successful in talkies.  I do not agree, based on her performance here.

Some footage from Gold appears in Curt Siodmak’s 1953 American film The Magnetic Monster, starring inveterate monster chaser Richard Carlson.  The climactic scene of Gold, in which our German good guy destroys the alchemical machine stolen by the Scotch bad guy, is brilliantly and matchingly spliced into the conclusion of Siodmak’s film.

On right, Richard Carlson who after such diverse films as TOO MANY GIRLS, HOLD THAT GHOST AND THE LITTLE FOXES, became creature chaser par excellence in the second phase of his career.

The Magnetic Monster          Curt Siodmak          1953
editor, Herbert L. Strock ; production designer, George Van Marter

NEXT FRIDAY POST November 17

Until then,
See you AT the movies
Rick

LETTERS, PERSONAL AND CINEMATIC

CELEBRITIES I HAVE KNOWN

One of my treasures, still in my files, is a letter from Max Ophüls (and I also hold onto the envelope, personally addressed to me in his own European longhand).  It is a gracious letter, centered on the rarity of a director’s receiving fan mail.  I had written him in admiration of Letter from an Unknown Woman, and I am glad that I did.

A REVIEW OF OPHÜLS’ 1940 FILM

From Mayerling to Sarajevo
Max Ophüls
1940

The aristocratic life is here.  So are the court, the manners, the moeurs.  Production design and clothes.  But the visual sense, the dazzling camera to which we are accustomed are missing.  There is a great deal of talk.  It is good, smart talk but it means that the film’s ideas and emotions are seldom given us pictorially.

The performances are all good.  Gabrielle Dorziat is excellent, and Edwidge Feuilière is outstanding.

But if there is such a thing as minor Ophüls, this is it.

OPHULS directing Martine Carol in LOLA MONTES

MAJOR  OPHÜLS

If you are unfamiliar with any of the director’s masterpieces, you owe it to yourself to experience it or them now, as in right now.

“Letter from an Unknown Woman” (1948)

Joan Fontaine, the poignant center of LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN

“La Ronde” (1950)
“Le Plaisir” (1951)
“The Earrings of Madame de…” (1953)
“Lola Montes” (1955)

All these titles, especially “Letter” and “Earrings” appear on the 10-Best lists of many directors and critics.

NEXT FRIDAY POST November 3,

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

 

 

 

 

HOLLYWOOD ENTERS THE WAR

RECOMMENDED READING

Five Came Back by Mark Harris

The story of five Hollywood directors who went to war in the forties and made some unforgettable propaganda films is a story that needed telling, and in Mark Harris it has found a knowledgeable, thorough and research-oriented author.  Yet his accounts of Wyler, Stevens, Capra, Huston and Ford in action  —  both military and dramatic  —  reads like a novel.  We enter all the theaters of war, with Ford in the Pacific, Wyler in Africa and Italy and in the Memphis Belle, Huston in the  Aleutians and at San Pietro, Stevens photographing the liberation of concentration camps (with film that would become evidence at Nuremberg), and Capra in Washington organizing and superintending it all.

William Wyler

Stevens in postwar work, on the set with his his stars

If Huston or Ford is a personal hero, however, and you are unfamiliar with previous books about them, you might wish to steer clear of this study  —  very unattractive portraits (anti-Semitic portraits) of two unattractive personalities.  Storied filmmakers of staggering talent  —  but unattractive personalities.

And Harris’ treatment of the fabled Frank Capra is in a class by itself.  I had believed that no writer could savage Capra to the extent that Capra savages himself in the final pages of his own book The Name Above the Title, but Harris manages to surpass him.  It is clear early in the book that Harris likes neither Frank Capra nor his films.  He is determined to see Capra as a crypto-Fascist; and any quality or craft in his work goes largely unmentioned.

He writes with barely disguised delight of the critical and box office failure of It’s a Wonderful Life, Capra’s first postwar film, at the time of its original release.  His ends his account of Capra with that and not a word about the rediscovery of It’s a Wonderful Life on television, not a word about its present day popularity and longevity as one of America’s best loved films.

Frank Capra

But this is a superbly written book, filled with information.  It includes extensive notes, background on  sources, a full bibliography and some fine photographs.

I learned something new on every page.  I didn’t know that Eric Knight participated in this American wartime effort.  I didn’t know that Joris Ivens did.  Or. Dr. Seuss.

Five Came Back by Mark Harris.  Penguin, 2015.

NEXT Friday POST October 13

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick